Best free games 2018: the top free games to download on PC

 techradar.com  2/12/2018 8:56:00 PM   Andrew Williams, Jamie Hinks

Best free PC games to play today

When you boot up Steam as often as we do, you start to notice a trend. Contrary to popular belief, PC games are expensive. And not only are they expensive, a lot of these titles don’t last long enough to justify a price tag five times that of a movie ticket. When your budget confines you to one or two games a year, the Call of Duty’s and Assassin’s Creed’s of the world become less enticing, and you start thinking about free games and how to obtain them.

Though in the past, you may have been convinced that downloading legally questionable files from dubious sources was the only way to score games for free, we’re here to tell you that you can play the 45 best free games without upsetting your ISP. What’s more, many can be played online with friends, so if you have a group of people who also don’t want to spend a fortune on gaming, you can start organizing clans on Discord or TeamSpeak right now. 

From massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as Star Wars: The Old Republic to strategic collectible card games along the lines of The Elder Scrolls: Legends, there is a lot to love among our assortment of the best free games that money can’t buy. Plus, given that we’ve invested time into each of these titles, you can – in good faith – trust our opinions.

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Best free game on our radar Ascent Infinite Realm

Those familiar with PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) will undoubtedly be scratching their heads when they find out that the next game from developer Bluehole is a free-to-play steampunk MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) that takes place in the sky. That’s fitting, as Ascent Infinite Realm is abbreviated as AIR, leading us to believe that everything Bluehole comes out with from now on is going to come with a super cool acronym that we’re extremely jealous of.

It may look similar to Tera, in the sense that it was made by the same company and it’s also an MMO, but we assure you that Ascent Infinite Realm is a different beast altogether. Despite packing a boatload of content – such as realm vs realm combat, building, crafting, hidden object mini-games and even barrel racing – Ascent Infinite Realm is designed from the ground up to be accessible. More specifically, it was made for players who want to skip the fluff and get to that good, good post-game content in little over 30 hours.

Expected: TBA

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Two years before Destiny, back in 2012, we had Planetside 2. It's an epic, all-out first-person battle so impressive, you'll give yourself a quick pinch every time you remember it's completely free. There are in-game purchases of course, but you can still dive into gaming's biggest ever battlefield and be useful with just default gear.

There's simply nothing like taking part in a massed assault on an enemy base and coming out on top, or living in a world where an enemy convoy could appear on the horizon at any second. If you need any proof that 'free' doesn't mean uninspired, Planetside 2 will provide it.

2. Dota 2 

The Dota universe may have derived from a Wacraft 3 mod, but Dota 2 is very much its own entity, not to mention one of the most popular free-to-play games.

This top-down arena battler is incredibly active, attracting multi-million dollar prize funds for serious tournament players. It's not just for obsessives, though.

A brief tutorial now points out the ropes, with the Steam Community stepping in to provide guides to the original MOBA. Don't expect a warm welcome or easy learning curve from its sophisticated gameplay mechanics, but bring a few friends and Dota 2 will have you hooked on one of the biggest crazes in PC history.

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There's only one thing you can count on in life apart from death and taxes: jetpacks rule. And Tribes: Ascend is the world's premiere online jetpack shooter. Don your jetpack and launch into battle across huge maps, with weapons that take real skill just to land a hit – never mind a kill.

Tribes: Ascend is fast, furious, and absolutely brilliant, and there's no reason to spend any money in the in-game shop if you simply want to hold your own in battle. Though there's plenty of stuff to buy if you do fancy splashing some cash…

You can pay to unlock more classes, weapons and perks, but if you're going to keep it casual you can still have loads of fun with Tribes: Ascend.

4. Path of Exile

In the style of Diablo III, Path of Exile is a free dungeon crawler that's a bit different from most free-to-play games out there. It's not just about whacking real life people until they scream at you in shrill pubescent tones through their Skype headsets.

It's more of a slow-burner than a multiplayer blaster, but give it time and you may well fall in love with this free-to-play loot-gathering hit. There are hidden depths that you only uncover after playing for hours (and hours), and a huge skill tree to slowly pick away at. There are no game-ruining things like real money auction houses here, either.

Instead, even basic loot can be useful because there's always an opportunity to enhance even the simplest weapon with magic. If you got tired of the grind of Diablo III, it's a good one to check out.

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Pick your champion and head into battle in this amazing free-to-play game from the creators of Dota. League of Legends' automated matchmaking, range of characters and excellent maps have made it a multiplayer star over the last year, and one well worth a play.

It's a very aggressive game to play, but one that rewards good teamwork and careful tactics. Don't expect to master it overnight, but it won't be long before you're having fun.

Like Dota 2, League of Legends attracts many high-end players, and the top tournaments offer prize pools of over $1,000,000. The weird world of e-sports, eh?

6. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Ever played Magic the Gathering, the card game? Hearthstone is Blizzard's attempt at making an online free-to-play alternative to it.

And in typical Blizzard fashion, it's excellent. It's immediately inviting, lacking the terrifying learning curve you might expect from an online fantasy card game. Hearthstone plays quickly, boasts a very casual visual approach, and benefits from a basic rule set, all of which adds up to a very accessible card battler that will give you hours of enjoyment.

Despite being accessible, it's still quite challenging as well, especially if you're up against an opponent that plays their cards right.

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Taking over from the original Star Wars MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies in 2011, Star Wars: The Old Republic was not free at release at first. But it has since, like so many games of this kind, adopted the free-to-play model. If you want to get Sith kicks, this is the best way to get them for free.

However, subscriptions are still available, giving you more in-game potential. All the story missions are available without a sub – they just might take you that bit longer.

It's worth the download simply to experience the Star Wars universe from different perspectives, like the hyper-professional Imperial Agent and Bounty Hunter. If you want to go with the dull option and just have a generic Jedi Knight, though, that's fine too.

8. Forza Motorsport 6 Apex

When Xbox head Phil Spencer said he was going to bring the console's best franchises to the PC, he wasn't joking around. Among these notable series is Forza Motorsport. 

Shunned by petrol-heads and embraced by gamers, Forza Motorsport may seem like an arcadey offshoot of its biggest rival on PlayStation, but it consistently looks and feels superb nonetheless. 

Apex in particular brings a complete Forza Motorsport game to PC players for the first time. Though it’s free-to-play, there is additional content that can be downloaded for a modest price. While it’s not quite the full-fledged experience you can expect on Xbox One, with support for 4K screens and racing wheels, Forza Motorsport 6 Apex is the free-to-play twist we’ve been craving from Microsoft’s long-standing racing series.

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Rare's classic fighting series Killer Instinct may not be the household name it once was, but the ability to play one character for free is enticing nonetheless.

What's more, characters can be purchased a la carte as downloadable content, which means you don't have to shell out a wad of cash unnecessarily for characters you'll never play. And, for the Xbox fans out there, this game is essentially Microsoft's equivalent of Super Smash Bros. and PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale since you can pick up numerous Xbox mascots. These include Arbiter (Halo), Rash (Battletoads) and General RAAM (Gears of War) in addition to a growing catalog of Killer Instinct-specific characters.

While Killer Instinct isn't as popular with the Fighting Game Community, there is a certain novelty of being able to control these classic Xbox-derived characters, and on PC at that.

10. World of Tanks

World of Tanks is a different kind of MMO – the clue being in the title. Team-based, massively multiplayer action with a huge range of war machines to drive into battle awaits, with new players able to join the action immediately.

An upgrade system adds a sense of personalization, while being surrounded by a whole army constantly reminds you that loners don't do well on the battlefield. Get sucked in, though, and you may find you end up spending a chunk of your wages on great big chunks of virtual metal.

While some premium tanks cost just a few dollars, others are more expensive. You can see where maker Wargaming is going to earn some cash from World of Tanks enthusiasts.

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Think World of Tanks is a bit too arcade-like for your tastes? You need to try out the free game War Thunder. Despite being lesser-known, it's a great alternative to that tank battler. And for an extra sweetener, it throws airplanes into the mix too. As you might expect, they're a great deal of fun.

With a fast enough PC, War Thunder offers visual quality you don't see too often in free-to-play games. You will need to pay some cash to get hold of the more interesting planes and tanks early on, but getting Battlefield-like play for free sounds like a good deal to us.

There are arcade and historical battles on offer – the former is great for a more casual blast while historical battles are more for players with a few hours on their flight card.

12. Everquest

Though its future was briefly uncertain after the sale of Sony's online entertainment division in February 2015, Everquest has returned better than ever with new expansion packs and continued support by Daybreak Game Company.

The first of its kind to commercially succeed with a 3D game engine, Everquest was released in 1999 as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) and has since been documented as one of the most important games in the medium's history.

Featuring consistently released expansion packs (quite massive in scale, at least early on) with vast new areas, races and classes, Everquest brings to the table just about everything you would expect from an MMO – plus it's notably better at handling co-op than its alternatives.

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While it's no World of Warcraft in terms of whether your friends are still playing it, the free game Rift had its moment – and it's still having it depending on who you ask. It added innovation in a genre that was experiencing little, letting you change your class whenever you feel like it.

The whole game is focused on separating giant boss battles and events that occupy entire zones. It's ambitious, exciting and huge with a dozen inter-dimensional rifts that keep things fresh and unique from other games in the genre.

Plus, you can ride on a landshark.

14. Runescape

Runescape is one of the biggest free-to-play MMOs out there, and now would be a good time to take a look. In 2013 it entered its third reboot – this is actually 'Runescape 3', although just jumping in now you might not appreciate it has been around in one form or another for more than 10 years.

It's certainly not the shiniest MMO in the world despite the revamp, but hanging onto this many players shows it's doing something right. The big change introduced in Runescape 3 that made it appear a lot more modern was the ability to see much further – in Runescape 2 the horizon quickly gave way to fog. Not so now.

You can download the game for free or run it in your browser using Java, making it much more convenient than most other online role-players of this epic scale.

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If the bleak appearance typically associated with MMORPGs is a turn-off for you, you'll be delighted to see that Maplestory takes the traditional art style of the genre and turns it on its head. Described by its developer as the original 2D side-scrolling MMO, Nexon's Maplestory takes the age-old Dungeon & Dragons-inspired genre and makes it kawaii.

The customization and lighter tone of Maplestory makes it feel more like a Harvest Moon MMO than something like Rift or World of Warcraft. It's also more focused on improving cosmetics than many other MMOs, giving players distinct control over their character's look and style.

There are even in-game weddings and dinosaurs that play guitar. Honestly the only thing we're missing here is a soundtrack composed by Oasis.

16. Warframe

If you're into third-person co-operative shooters, Warfarme is one of the best free games out there. After joining one of three factions: Tenno, Grineer or Corpos, your soldier is decked out in a Crysis-styled exosuit and equipped with guns or melee weapons. 

Better looking than your average free-to-play shooter, much fun can be had in Warframe's player-vs-enemy raids — so much so that some gamers see it as, "The Destiny that never was". High praise indeed.

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Gods from around the world get together to battle it out in a free Dota/MOBA inspired clash of divine vengeance in this effort. Despite Smite's obvious inspirations, it comes from the same developer that made FPS smash Tribes Ascend – a completely different beast.

The camera is behind the characters this time, making for a more direct connection to the action than simply guiding your lord around with a mouse, but the premise will be either familiar if you've played its inspirations, or a way to get the feel for the style if you haven't. Gods include Zeus, Thor, Kali, Artemis and... Cupid? Well, at least he has his own bow…

18. Lord of the Rings Online

Many MMOs are being launched or relaunched as free-to-play at the moment, but Lord of the Rings Online is one of the titles that most warrants a second look. Not only is it an excellent game in its own right, it's one of the more mature MMOs out there.

You will likely have to pay eventually, if only to unlock adventure packs, but there's no subscription fee and nothing to buy up-front. If you missed it at launch, it's time to give it a try.

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Without seeing more than a few screenshots, you might think Wildstar is a new IP from Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games. It's colorful and cartoony enough to sit alongside the same catalog as Spyro, but this is no casual free-to-play MMO, which may be the reason it didn't do as well as expected sales-wise.

If you like Blizzard games, such as World of Warcraft, Wildstar will undoubtedly quench your thirst since many of its developers at Carbine Studios came from the beloved Activision Blizzard subsidiary. 

Despite not landing as "the next evolution of the modern MMORPG," according to its IGN review, Wildstar holds its own as a traditional MMO that, before going free-to-play, had a unique subscription method based on actual player progress along with some colorfully stylized graphics.

20. Eve Online

In 2003, Icelandic developer CCP Games unleashed unto the world Eve Online, an immersive and in-depth “sci-fi experience” that would eventually garner the attention of well over 500,000 players. Eve Online is unlike any game in its category, thanks to the vast range of activities to take part in as well as its (appropriately) out of this world in-game economy. 

Unfortunately, the Eve Online player base has been on the decline since 2013. It should come as no shock that as time goes on, fewer and fewer gamers are interested in paying a subscription fee for a glorified space sim with a steep learning curve. As of the Ascension update, which released in November 2016, Eve Online has gone free-to-play – at least to an extent. 

The new ‘alpha clones’ system featured in Eve Online is similar to the “unlimited free trial” featured in World of Warcraft. You can still engage with other players in mining, piracy, manufacturing, trading, exploring and combat, but certain skills will be off-limits. As long as you don’t mind finite access to some of the game’s most lumbering ships, Eve Online won’t cost a cent.

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Blacklight: Retribution may not be as free as it was before it arrived on PS4, but it's still a damn fun and affordable way to play an FPS. Almost like a free-to-play Titanfall, Blacklight: Retribution has no single-player mode to offer and takes place in a futuristic Cyberpunk setting complete with fan-favorite modes like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination, King of the Hill and Kill Confirmed.

Featuring customizable weapons and mechs, of course, Blacklight: Retribution is a fun, free and safe way to let off steam after that 9 to 5. Plus, with over 1 million registered players and counting, there's bound to me no shortage of teammates (and rivals) to join up with.

22. Hawken

As it's been in beta since 2012 with little to no marketing push, you may have forgotten about Hawken or were unfamiliar with it in the first place. Most notably, Hawken is a game about mechs. But, not just any mechs – fast mechs. These are your average slow, lumbering tanks of MechWarrior Online. These are more comparable to the Exoskeletons of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.

Of course, being a free-to-play game, you can expect to pay for upgrades to your starter mech. However, you can still get a taste for Hawken without spending a dime. Plus, attach an Oculus Rift and you can see for yourself what VR games have in store for you. Admit it, you've wanted to know what it's feels like to power a mech for yourself since Pacific Rim came out.

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Although it quickly fell off the face of the Earth, Evolve was removed from Steam and re-released back into beta a year and a half after its initial release. It was then that the follow-up from Left 4 Dead developer Turtle Rock was slashed by 100 percent with a new name: Evolve Stage 2.

Despite going free-to-play, the game's core structure remains intact. It's a game of humans vs. zombies, err, monsters, a new twist on a beloved pastime. A team of four players, called hunters, is pitted up against a single monster, with each hunter assigned their own class. Of course, with four players taking on one, there is a unique catch: hence the game's title, monsters start out at a basic level but evolve over time by killing and consuming wildlife in nearby areas.

Evolve cost $40 before, so rest assured you'll get access to a game that looks triple-A, even if much of the content is locked behind a paywall. Nevertheless you can give it a shot for yourself for the nominal cost of $0 on Steam.

Played Skyrim or Oblivion? You should at least give the classic The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfal a nod. This 1990s RPG is a precursor to those incredibly popular RPGs, and is a bit of a classic in its own right.

Its game world is many times the size of any of its successors, and indeed it's the size of a continent, one absolutely packed with atmosphere. You might not all be able to stomach the old-fashioned visuals, but it's worth investigating if you want to see where Skyrim came from.

It's available direct from Bethesda. The publisher started offering it for free to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the game. As if we didn't feel old enough already.

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Among the biggest games to ever hit the PC/Mac landscape is Starcraft II, a competitive real-time strategy title whose Wings of Liberty installment is but one in three parts of the campaign. At one time, it was a phenomenon in South Korea, but the scene has calmed down a lot since MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2 have come to fruition. Perhaps that could explain why Blizzard has converted Starcraft II to the free-to-play business model.

As a result of its compelling strategy game mechanics, combined with brilliantly designed environments and a fascinating narrative that can only be expressed in a video game, Starcraft II is one of the most widely enjoyed eSports in the entire world. Of course, being a Blizzard game, you’ll need a Battle.net account to enjoy it, but otherwise, both the campaign and the multiplayer are free to enjoy. Only certain characters require your prized coin.

26. Wolfenstein 3D

Interested in knowing what Wolfenstein was before The New Order? Wolfenstein 3D is now free, and will take you back to the year 1992 when celebrity game developers John Carmack and John Romero teamed up to make a shareware game like nothing before it. 

Wolfenstein 3D took concepts from Muse Software's Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein to create a three-dimensional first-person shooter that would later inspire the development of Doom.

Keep in mind while playing, though, that while Wolfenstein 3D was impressive for its time, it's probably not what you would expect from a first-person shooter of today's standards. Nonetheless, it's an easy and free way to experience game history in an old-school World War II game rich with narrative about, well, shooting Nazis in the face. Don't expect to be blown away by the story in the same way as the Wolfenstein franchise's more recent entries.

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It may be an old vet in gaming terms, but nothing offers so much crazy fun as Team Fortress 2. Unlike most shooters of its age, players are still there to have a good time rather than hurl abuse at newcomers, and there's no shortage of cool toys to have fun with. Endlessly silly and amazingly fresh, it's still one of the shooter genre's kings, free-to-play or not.

As you might guess, there are some micro-transactions involved. You can buy additional items, often used to customise your character. You can create your own. It's fun, and gets you even more involved in TF2. Those cheeky devils at Valve know what they're doing.

28. Gigantic

Though it may have gotten lost in the fog of Overwatch, Lawbreakers and the like, Gigantic is yet another hero shooter in a jumbled sea of hero shooter fanaticism. The difference is that Gigantic, much like the unfortunately fated Battleborn, is a lot more MOBA-esque than Blizzard and Boss Key Studios’ similarly styled games. 

The gameplay largely revolves around two teams of five players who are both trying to defeat both each other and a mystical leviathan known as a guardian. Likewise, Gigantic gives players the choice between a wide variety of characters each with their own abilities and upgrades. Plus, it’s on Xbox One, too, in case you want to continue the fun in the living room.

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Magic: The Gathering is fun, right? But what if you could play it from the comfort of your PC? Fortunately, that's possible thanks to Magic Duels. Whether you're a first-time player or a 20-year vet, Duels lets you do everything the card game does and more. While over 300 new cards are advertised as being attainable throughout the game, there's also a unique story mode where you can experience Magic like never before.

If narrative in your card games isn't your cup of tea, there's also a Battle Mode in which you can challenge your friends, a four-player Two-Headed Giant battle and even an offline solo mode you can use for practice against AI.

30. DC Universe Online 

Though it's yet another free-to-play MMO on this list, DC Universe Online takes characters like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and more into a massive (and shared) public world. 

Choose whether you want to be a member of the Hero or Villain faction then customize your character and you'll be sent out into the world of DC Universe Online at the hands of Daybreak Game Company.

After some training, the game assigns you a position as either a member of the Justice League or The Society depending on your choice of hero or villain. Unlike other MMOs on this list and outside it, DC Universe Online is designed to be much more interactive while still retaining traditional MMORPG elements such as leveling, raiding, inventories and post-game progression. Favorably, it's not difficult to play without using real-world currency too.

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It’s not hard to see why Paladins catches a lot of flack for its resemblance to Overwatch. At the same time, the team-based shooter bears many distinctions from that of Blizzard’s. Abilities are upgraded based on a collectible card system, which can completely change the way each character plays.

What’s more, unlike Overwatch, Paladins is completely free-to-play. While cosmetic items are available to buy using real-world currency, everything else can be unlocked simply by playing the game. For instance, you’ll start Paladins with a single deck of basic cards, and from there, more dramatically impactful decks can be unlocked.

Regardless of how you choose to play Paladins, you’ll get XP as you play. As long as you’re completing the daily quests and achievements featured in the game, you’ll be rewarded with Radiant Chests and Gold. These can be used to purchase more cards, costumes and weapon skins to make your characters more unique and skillful on the battlefield.

32. Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 Lite

You may be familiar with Fifa already, but Pro Evolution Soccer – or PES – is one of the best-selling video game franchises of all-time. It doesn’t have all the flair (or the licensing) of its EA Sports rival, but some would argue that it’s the better soccer game series, not to mention one of the better sports series overall. 

PES 2018 in particular isn’t too much of an improvement over its predecessor, but it does introduce better dribbling and makes an effort to perfect the fan-favorite Master League mode. The ‘Lite’ version of Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 gives you access to the Online myClub and PES League Mode in addition to the Offline Exhibition Match and Training Mode, entirely for free. There are in-app purchases along the way, but you can always upgrade to the full version later should this one not satisfy.

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You can now get Spelunky on all sorts of platforms – it's pretty high-profile for an indie title. But it began its life PC-exclusive, and its original 'non HD' Classic version you can still get for free today.

The catch is that every time you play, the entire game is randomized. In one game you'll stumble through screen after screen of spiked horrors and swarming monsters; in the next, the software will bend over backwards to give you gold and help you on your way.

You learn how each randomized world ticks and which equipment will give you a fighting chance. And then you'll die some more. And scream. And restart. Again.

34. Neverwinter

As a free MMO, Neverwinter sets a high standard for itself as it's based on perhaps the most iconic role-playing game of all-time, Dungeons & Dragons. Like everything else in the Dungeons and Dragons universe, the game takes place in Forgotten Realms, specifically, as the name suggests, in Neverwinter.

Featuring eight character classes with groups of up to five players supported, Neverwinter is based on the fourth-generation rules of Dungeons & Dragons. However, the rules are slightly modified, letting players heal their allies in addition to allowing for the use of special abilities in combat after racking up enough action points.

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An ostensibly charming visual novel on the surface, Doki Doki Literature Club is a game that’s best experienced blindly. It comes from Dan Salvato, a game developer known best for his work in the Super Smash Bros. Melee modding community, who says he developed Doki Doki Literature Club because of his indifference towards anime.

That’s ironic considering the main character in Doki Doki Literature Club is obsessed with anime and manga and has minimal experience with the writings of more prestigious authors. As engrossing as the trio of female supporting characters appear to be in Doki Doki Literature Club, we would advise getting too attached to them. 

Without spoiling the story, the first thing you see when you boot up Doki Doki Literature Club is a content warning, suggesting that those with severe anxiety refrain from playing at all. It’s not entirely unwarranted either, as you’re bound to learn the hard way that Doki Doki Literature Club is more horror than generic fan service.

36. Puzzle Pirates: Dark Seas

For nearly 15 years now, Puzzle Pirates has been a household name for kids with unrestricted access to the computer labs at school. It’s a completely free-to-play massively multiplayer online role-playing game originally developed by the Sega-owned Three Rings Design. The goal is to join a crew and ideally become a captain, by completing puzzles alongside other players. 

Puzzle Pirates: Dark Seas, on the other hand, is the Steam-exclusive version of Puzzle Pirates that introduces an entirely new ocean known as Obsidian. Dark Seas introduces factions and player-versus-player (PvP) combat in a way that didn’t exist prior to the Steam release of Puzzle Pirates. It also comes from a different developer, a nonprofit called Grey Havens founded by several former members of Three Rings Design.

Before the advent of Dark Seas, you could only get the multiplayer portion of Puzzle Pirates on Steam. Now it appears as though the single-player mode can be downloaded and installed from Valve’s client as well. Although it’s only in early access for the time being, early reviews suggest that it’s worth a shot for Puzzle Pirates veterans and newcomers alike.

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Its development cycle was a disaster, but in the end, the Phantom Dust remaster turned out just fine. A new IP in the form of a Japanese budget card game for the original Xbox, it seemed to good to be true when Microsoft revealed back at E3 2014 that a complete remake was in the works… and, as it turns out, it was.

The remake was canned in 2016, but Microsoft still wanted to revive the cult classic one-off. As it turns out, the company did so with a remaster, not a remake. Luckily, the new version of Phantom Dust for Windows 10 (and Xbox One, for console-goers) doesn’t cost a thing to play unless you opt to purchase some of the in-game “multiplayer cards”.

38. Dwarf Fortress

Inspiring the creation of Minecraft was no small feat for 2D sandbox game Dwarf Fortress. Dubbed a construction and management simulator, Dwarf Fortress takes simple text-based graphics into a more modern, 2006 piece of software. The game is often classified as a cult classic because of its open-ended nature and serving as one of the most iconic examples of a procedurally generated roguelike.

This means Dwarf Fortress both randomizes its environments and makes the game's permadeath system a much more difficult problem to avoid. This led to the unofficial slogan for the game "Losing is fun," which was either ironic or an accurate description of what happens in the game. Tough to say either way.

One thing's for sure, though. If you want to experience an important part of games history, Dwarf Fortress is a solid start, as it was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City back in 2013. Can't say that for a lot of free-to-play games.

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To explain Digital: A Love Story would be giving away too much, so let's just say that it's a great nostalgia trip with a bit of future-gazing thrown in for free. Played out entirely on 1988-style bulletin boards, it starts when you respond to an email from a lonely sounding girl called Emilia.

The relationship in this, not especially long, game (an hour or so at most) is a testament to the writing that quickly enthralls despite being not much more than a string of jotting down phone numbers. It plays out as a hacker's romance, having you jump between BBS systems to uncover a conspiracy.

You never get to see what you've said, only the responses, which adds an unusual but effective disconnect to the conversations. The authentic sounding music and sound effects help: the sweet siren song of a modem connecting still sends a chill down the spine.

40. Fallout Shelter

If you're more interested in the property management systems of Fallout 4 rather than the overwhelming majority of the role-playing game's content, Fallout Shelter is a great place to start. Up until recently, the simulation game was limited to mobile platforms Android and iOS. However, with the introduction of Quests in version 1.6 of Fallout Shelter, Bethesda Softworks also felt the need to port the game to PC by way of the Bethesda.net client.

All in all, Fallout Shelter doesn't feel much different on PC, and that's undoubtedly a good thing. Mouse controls work well in place of a touchscreen, graphics are optimized even for low-end hardware and with windowed mode enabled by default, it's easy to find yourself caring after your vault residents during your downtime at work. With an indisputably manageable price point (free), Fallout Shelter could very well become the next Solitaire in your office or at school.

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As a result of being overshadowed when it originally released six years ago, Brink is now completely free to play on Steam – no microtransactions added. Bittersweet considering its lukewarm commercial reception, but we should celebrate the fact that this unique spin on the traditional multiplayer first-person shooter is now available for all to enjoy. 

Set on a floating city called the Ark that’s running low on resources, Brink pits a team of refugees, the “Resistance”, against the security officials deemed responsible for those living in poverty. The result is a fun, if flawed, experience that blends single-player objectives harmoniously with heated multiplayer gunplay. 

From developer Splash Damage and publisher Bethesda Softworks, you might have turned your nose up at Brink during its initial release in 2011, but now that it’s free, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth. 

42. Battleborn

CEO and president of Gearbox Software Randy Pitchford will tell you differently, but Battleborn is free-to-play. Officially classified as a “free trial” on Steam, there isn’t much to differentiate the hero shooter from other free-to-play games on the market. You can play for as long as you want using six of the game’s 30 characters, rotated weekly to shake things up.

Battleborn was originally released in May 2016, the same month as Overwatch. The main difference is that Battleborn draws influence from MOBA games while Overwatch is a more traditional PvP shooter with an eccentric cast of characters. Battleborn also has a single-player campaign, which can be unlocked using real-world currency.

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There’s an ostensibly neverending arms race developers are in right now to put out the next Hearthstone. That is, a wildly popular collectible card game (CCG) that’s “easy to learn but challenging to master.” Those are the words, verbatim, publisher Bethesda Softworks is using to describe The Elder Scrolls: Legends.

A CCG that draws from the lore of the company’s beloved RPG franchise, The Elder Scrolls: Legends differentiates itself from the likes of competing virtual card games such as Hearthstone and The Witcher 3’s Gwent by enacting a two-lane system that keeps players on their toes when it comes to devising strategies.

And, if you’re simply craving more Skyrim, you’ll be elated to know that the Heroes of Skyrim expansion for The Elder Scrolls: Legends packs in 150 additional cards, some of which are familiar faces like Aela the Huntress, J’Zargo and Delphine.

44. Robocraft

Whether you loved or hated World of Tanks, you’ll be pleased to know that Robocraft is what you get when you take conventional vehicle combat and completely turn it on its head. From independent developer and publisher Freejam, Robocraft lets you commandeer jet cars (not jets and cars, but jet cars), tanks, flying warships, helicopters and drones.

In doing so, you’ll spend most of your time engaging in combat with other players online. Like a vehicle-based Fortnite, you’ll also experiment with different combinations of 250 preset blocks using a simple crafting interface, allowing you to equip the vehicle of your choosing with the weapons of your choosing as well. 

Likewise, Robocraft lets you create or join clans with up to 50 members. Within those clans, you can invite friends to ‘parties’ and play cooperatively in an effort to take down other teams. Once everything is said and done and you’re satisfied with your creations, you can show them off at the virtualized Community Robot Factory in exchange for likes and shares.

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Real-time Strategy (RTS) games don't come much grander than those in the Total War series, and the latest entrant, Battles KINGDOM, is free-to-play. Currently in open beta on the PC, it's also available to play on iOS and Android, so you can pick up where you left off when you're away from your battlestation. Set at the turn of the 10th Century, Total War Battles: Kingdom combines army management with kingdom building to deliver a bite-sized RTS game you can pick up and play anywhere, anytime.

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